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Location Tracking For the Future

Change is the only constant. This thought came from Heraclitus around 500BC, but it feels very relevant today. Every week, every day, things are evolving worldwide. Some of you may be slowly allowing some of your workers to return to the office. Some of you may only be allowing essential workers. Some of you may have had to shut down your entire business or areas of your business – temporarily or permanently. Change is constant. Change can be excruciatingly hard. And sometimes, change can be good.

When this unprecedented pandemic reached the US, we saw a significant shift to heavy reliance on technology. Companies started requiring their employees to work from home; there was a surge in connecting remotely, often via video. Many people were, and still are, logging into technology for large portions of their day, without the technology break that was previously provided by face-to-face meetings. In the coming months, likely even years, we predict that will continue to increase even after we have made it through the phased plan to reopen the nation.

The potential for existing technology to become more ubiquitous, or evolve into new technology solutions to meet new demand, is high. We are already hearing about and seeing offices and restaurants requiring temperature sensing for their onsite employees. UV technologies are emerging that have the capability of killing 99% of harmful pathogens and microorganisms on devices in seconds. And systems that track employee productivity and time on the clock are nothing new. But they do provide a base understanding of how Real Time Location System (RTLS) applications could grow throughout the business world.

Location-based solutions like RTLS have the potential to expand, especially in our current climate. These systems often use active RFID to pinpoint the location of a tagged object or person. When you start to think through that simplified description, you can begin to imagine all the ways that technology could be implemented.

Proximity Tracking
RLTS can be used for proximity tracking. People and assets would be assigned a tracking tag, uniquely identified for them. These could be attached to an asset in a label like RFID tag or located in an ID badge, bracelet, etc. that employees could wear. As people move through a workplace fitted with RFID beacons or readers, employers could track their employees’ proximity to one another at any given time on the premises.

These systems are incredibly precise, allowing you to track tagged assets (including people) within inches, sometimes centimeters, of their real-time location. Compare those with smartphone apps that have proximity accuracy within 30 feet – RTLS solutions provide superior tracking accuracy. Companies looking for ways to monitor and enforce social distancing would have actionable, accurate data in real-time or near real-time. And unlike smartphone tracking or GPS tracking, in systems that strictly use RFID, employees would only have the potential to be tracked while they are within the RFID readers range. Meaning that these systems would not monitor them once they leave the established read range. And will not be monitored again until they return into the company’s read range.

Contact Tracing
In conjunction with proximity tracking, some solutions facilitate contact tracing. As the proximity tracking happens in real-time, software can store the location of tagged assets and employees. If an employee is confirmed positive for a virus, the employer can review the data, identifying which people and assets they came in contact with during the contagious window. Those people can be alerted, seek medical attention, and self-isolate. Any equipment can be collected for deep cleaning. It’s not exactly something that the Jetsons predicted, but it has the precise, targeted effectiveness that has those futuristic undertones.

Whether these systems are being applied in healthcare, manufacturing, warehouses, or across dock doors in T&L applications, there is a clear benefit. Maya Angelou wisely said, “When you know better, you do better.” The data derived from RTLS applications allows employers to know better where things are. To know better who and what their people have been in contact with. It alleviates the need for blanket regulation, making way for precise operations and targeted action. As things continue to change, we all have the opportunity to lean into the change and invest in technologies that will make us better.

Know better. Do better. Stay safe.